This man of mine. We met when I was coming out of a painful divorce. I had two children, ages 3 and 5 at the time. I did not know what to expect from him. I’d given up on expectations at that time in my life, so many left unfulfilled. We dated long distance for the first year; he would come and visit often. I introduced him as my friend. My kids were cautiously optimistic, a new playmate for them to experiment with. Their father and I, though divorcing each other, were fiercely committed to raising our kids together. We lived in the same neighborhood. We shared custody, parenting rules, and the pain of watching our children adjust to a new life. One they did not choose.
This man of mine. He kept showing up. He got to know my kids on their terms. He took his time. One step forward, two steps back. His patience was unnerving. I watched him begin to gain their trust. He never overstepped boundaries unintentionally set by their father. We were all testing him back then. Waiting for him to falter, to grow tired of the constant attention children need. Children that were not his own flesh and blood. After 6 months I left on a day trip for work, the first time he would be alone with them. I called immediately when my flight landed. No answer. Panic set in. Did he forget to pick them up from school? Did I tell him grapes need cut in two? Oh God, they must be at the emergency room. As I race home, he calls. “Where WERE you,” I snap. “Sorry, we were outside with their Dad having a lemonade stand.” Once the kids had their stand ready, they told him their Dad really liked lemonade. Could he call and invite him over? And so he did. Two people, thrown together, showing these kids what a real man and father looks like.
This man of mine. He moved for us. He asked us to marry him. He was able to see firsthand how hard it is to raise a child. He said he wanted in anyway, not in spite of it all, but because of it. He wanted the mess and the effort and the chaos. We married in front of a close group of friends, our children standing right beside us. We had a child a year later. A little boy, a brother delivered to two anxiously awaiting siblings.
This man of mine. He disciplines with a gentle heart. He teaches them manners and respect. He can get our thoughtful, serious daughter to belly laugh with a silly dance on command. He has never, ever treated them differently from his ‘own’ son. Not one time. We are a united front with their father and his wife. He has never crossed the invisible line set for him all those years ago. Watching our families raise these children together makes me believe in a higher power. Somehow, after all of the pain and sadness of those early days, things are exactly as they should be.
This father of theirs. He is a naturally generous person, with his time and affection. When our kids are upset, he is the first person they go to. He is the glue that binds our family together. He will never know the extent of my gratefulness for opting into our life. For choosing us over a simpler, quieter existence. That’s the thing about being a father, it’s not about genetics. It’s about showing up, every single day and making sure they know you love them.